Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Technology in Medicine’ Category

Is There An App for Stress?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 19, 2015


Using a mobile application to help with stress? Very exciting. Anyone in the world with a smart phone can tap into a fund of knowledge that reminds him the value of self-care. Many of my readers might be shocked at my enthusiasm for this technology because there is no doctor/patient relationship to bring about hope and lasting change. Yet, I am excited about these applications because there is no pretense of a relationship. Unlike my issue with short-term, cookbook therapies (the Ts, as I call them), which has a person serve the role of therapist, but in fact, their role is one of “facilitator”, in the case of using a mobile app, the patient knows there is no human interaction. The patient is not teased with a relationship which could help them, only to be told after six to twelve sessions that they are “better” or “not better, but either way the care must be transitioned away from that dyad. I see these mobile apps as the modern-day “self-help” book, as the person knows they need a reminder about what they probably already know, but reading it, on the screen or in print, penetrates their defenses enough to facilitate change, and maybe to inspire deeper work with a psychotherapist, one day. Some innovations in mental health care are exciting and game changing. These mobile apps hold that promise.

Posted in Technology in Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Internet Problems

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 13, 2013

7:20 pm and I am finally getting a chance to post today. Many of my readers might have lost hope. I am trying to post Monday-Thursday, with an occasional Friday post. Today, though, was a larger issue. WordPress, my blog host, did not want to load on to my server. So, is this a problem with  WordPress or a problem with my server or both? I call my computer consultant, and, as if I don’t know how this conversation goes, he says, “that’s a good question.” Regardless, I want the system to work, and although I am new to this technology, I somehow feel victimized when it does not work. “Why me?” I want to say, but refrain, since I know this is not a personal matter. Will my readers really be disappointed if I don’t post today? Will they understand that I tried and failed because I had a “loading” problem. My email was working, so I was not completely shut down, which only seemed to make matters worse, since I kept hoping that with enough persistence, WordPress would load. Well, I was wrong. Apparently, my internet is sensitive to how many users are active at any given time, such that at high usage periods, such as from 11-4, my internet grinds to a crawl and WordPress seems to be quite sensitive to this slow down. My email, apparently, has a thicker skin. I cannot help but give human attributes to my tools, since I am struggling for a way to understand my dependency and subsequent disappointment when the tools do not work, as I think they should. I want my car to start in the morning. I want to be able to turn my lights on and I want to be able to load WordPress on to my server. Yet, in actual fact, I am still trying to understand what a “server” actually means, beyond the fact that I need one to get the electronic juices going. Now, I am past the high usage time, and my life has returned to what I have come to feel as “normal”. Maybe I am now sentenced to only post before 11 or after 4. Or, maybe I have to re-tool my internet provider, such that I have more reliability. All I know is that with new technology comes new excitements and new disappointments. I still get excited to think that I can jot down my thoughts and that folks, both known and unknown, can read them at their leisure. At the same time, I get frustrated when I can’t communicate in this way. What once seemed like a dream, is now simply, an expectation. Adapt or die is the motto. Adapting to “down time” is part of that survival strategy. I need to work on that.

Posted in Technology in Medicine | 8 Comments »

Autism Apps

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 30, 2013

Developers dive in to create a wealth of autism apps,0,2782344.story

Can an ipad application help autistic kids communicate? The answer is nobody knows and everyone, especially those at Apple, those in the educational community, and families with autistic members, would like to think so. There is no evidence to suggest that any app can be useful, and yet there are “a search for “autism” in Apple’s App Store brings up 1,449 apps for the iPad, and 1,259 for the iPhone. And Apple has even created a “Special Education” section of the App Store.

The range of these apps has expanded well beyond the initial focus of helping people with autism communicate and improve social skills to learning about emotions and delivering basic educational lessons in a format that’s better suited to autistic learners, Shih said.

The creators appear to be drawn by a mix of instincts to help others and the sense that there is potentially a sizable market for these apps since, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 50 school-age children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with some form of autism, an increase of 72% from five years ago.”

So, are we looking at a market which is highly suggestible, or is this the next great intervention? My intuition tells me that for children and adults with social/communication issues, the ipad or iphone is a tool, which although could be useful, for the most part, it cannot compensate for face to face time of social interactions. We learn to be social through experience, and yes, virtual experience can serve as a rehearsal, but the bulk of cooperation and reciprocity is learned on the playground. I am excited about the notion of health-care apps, where folks can carry around tools at their fingertips which can remind them to eat better, exercise and breathe deeply, but as with all interventions, there does need to be scientific studies to guide us how we can use these tools to most effectively shore up our deficits. Right now, we seem to be working with, and selling, hope.

Posted in Apps, Autism, Health Care Delivery, Technology in Medicine | 5 Comments »

Health Care Apps

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 18, 2013

  • Breath to Relax App Screenshot 2


In the “adapt or die” mode, part of moving into the next wave of health care changes is using applications to help patients understand and treat their ailments. Knowing which application to recommend to patients will be an important tool in the ever-expanding toolbox of treatment modalities. This application, pictured above, helps patients learn diaphragmatic breathing by showing a man lying on the ground with a book on his stomach, demonstrating that the book rises and falls with each deep breath, but not with shallow breathing. Deep breathing soothes anxiety, and is a relatively simple means of coping with stress in very powerful moments, such as learning about the Boston Marathon. Teaching people to breathe is that simple, elegant, intervention in which there are no negative effects. The smart phone allows people to teach themselves deep breathing in the privacy of their own space, along with the value of repetition, if need be. There is no doubt, that the smart phone will serve as both a health care passport, in which patients travel with vital medical information, along with serving as a  treatment tool, particularly for stress-related disorders such as anxiety or insomnia. This advanced technology thrills me beyond words. Only in my wildest dreams did I imagine such useful patient information to be so incredibly handy and useful. In this way, medicine is in an exciting era.

Posted in Anxiety Disorders, Apps, Office Practice, personal growth, State of Psychiatry, Technology in Medicine | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

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